Iraqi PM denies attack plan as tensions rise with Kurds
— Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday denied an attack on the Kurds was imminent, in a bid to defuse tensions that had prompted Kurdish peshmerga fighters to temporarily seal off road links with the rest of the country.
“We are not going to use our army to fight our people or to make war on our Kurdish citizens or others,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.
“Our duty is to preserve the unity of our country, to implement the constitution, and to protect citizens and national forces,” he told a meeting of tribal leaders in the western province of Anbar, where Iraqi security forces are battling to seize the Islamic State (IS) group’s last bastion in the country.
The rise in tensions came two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the central government condemned as illegal.
Iraqi Kurdish forces closed the two main roads connecting Arbil and Dohuk with the northern city of Mosul for several hours, a Kurdish military official said.
“The closure was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces on the disputed areas,” held by Kurdish forces but outside the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country, the official said.
Kurdish authorities said late Wednesday they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were gearing up to launch an assault on the autonomous region. “We’re receiving dangerous messages that the Hashed al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces) and federal police are preparing a major attack from the southwest of Kirkuk and north of Mosul against Kurdistan,” the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Security Council said.
Security sources said Thursday that Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service and Rapid Response Force had deployed more forces near peshmerga positions around Rashad, a village some 65 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk city.